Not Yet In The Fold

Not Yet In The Fold

It's good to wrestle with how to keep showing love in long-term evangelistic relationships.

A.W. Workman

“Hi, I’m Tom the Catholic. I’m the only Catholic in this bunch. My daughter goes here.”


I shook hands with the elderly man who sported a ponytail and a ballcap, curious about his story. I hadn’t expected to meet a Catholic Tom at this evening cookout for a rural Southern Baptist church. After conversing with me for a few minutes about U.S. foreign policy, Tom ducked away once a group picture was mentioned. The church pastor then approached me, looking a little unsure about what Tom may have said to me.


“Saw you talking to Tom. Just wanted to let you know that he’s not a member here - not yet a believer. But he keeps coming to our cookouts. We hope that the truth he’s hearing will sink in sooner or later. Anyway, thanks for talking to him!”


“For sure,” I responded, “We’ve got a lot of friends like Tom in Central Asia. At some point, all we can figure is that if they keep coming around, and if we keep talking about Jesus, then at some level, they may be open to Jesus.”


The pastor and I were standing on a rural Kentucky balcony on a muggy summer’s evening, but my mind was already back in Central Asia, thinking about Mohammad the photographer. Side note: there are a lot of Mohammads in Muslim countries, so we often have to attach some kind of designator to the name to keep them all straight. Mohammad the photographer, Mohammad the redhead, Mohammad the rapper, etc.


Mohammad the photographer has been a regular attendee at our Central Asian church plant’s services, baptism picnics, and other hangouts for about five years. His best friend, Darius, came to faith at the end of our first term and is now an elder-in-training. Mohammad, on the other hand, a gentle, spectacled, tech-oriented fellow, is still not in the fold.


The issue is not gospel-clarity. In fact, Mohammad will sometimes explain the gospel to other unbelieving friends in his and Darius’ circle. The issue is not even a lack of desire to believe. Just this past month, Mohammad told me that he wants to be able to believe but also that he isn’t interested in faking the presence of genuine faith when he knows it’s not there yet.


“I used to be so focused on logic, science, and evidence, a skeptic. I demanded water-tight proof that Christianity is true. But now I know that doesn’t work. There is proof, but it is the love that believers have that is the proof. The proof is the love. Now that I know this, I do hope that I can become a believer soon. I feel like I am close.”


When Mohammad shared this with me, it was 3 a.m., the day after the grandmother who had raised him and for whom he had been a devoted caretaker had died. A solid core of the believers had attended the Islamic funeral, and Darius had convinced him to spend the night at his apartment with some of us believing men. And while I had hoped that we could comfort Mohammad in his grief, I hadn’t expected to get into such a personal gospel conversation with him that night. So much had been shared with him already, and my brain was foggy from lack of sleep. But Central Asians tend to go deep once it’s past midnight. And the presence of death evidently meant that eternity was weighing on Mohammad’s heart. Laying on a floor mattress close to the couch where Mohammad was laying, I chewed on what Mohammad had shared and ventured a response.


“You are right that the proof is the love. That’s exactly what Jesus says, that the love of his followers for one another is proof that God has sent Jesus into the world to save us, that the message of Jesus is true. Mohammad, you say you hope you can become a believer soon, and I am praying for that also. But you know, you can’t make yourself a believer. God must do that. What you need is for God to reveal himself and his love to you in such a powerful way that it changes you and causes you to truly repent and follow him.”


“Yes,” Mohammad agreed, thinking deeply. “I do want God to show his love to me in that way.”


“Well, then you need to be asking God every day that he will do that, and not stopping until he does. Do you think you can do that?”


“I can. I should.”


“Actually, can I pray this for you right now?”


Mohammad agreed, and we prayed together, asking God to sovereignly reveal his saving love for him.


As far as I know, this prayer has not yet been answered. Mohammad keeps coming around, keeps being exposed to the believing community, to the church, to the love that is the proof that the gospel is true. Thankfully, the body has and will continue to walk with him.


When I think of Muhammad the photographer and Tom the Catholic, I am reminded that, yes, the church needs clear lines of membership for those who are “inside” and those who are “outside.” But the church also needs a category for those who are unbelieving long-term friends, potential God-seekers as it were. Relational space and regular opportunities are needed where these can keep coming around in order to witness the love between believers that is such compelling evidence of our faith’s reality (John 13:35, 17:23).


Do we offer these kinds of relational and physical spaces? Are we willing to keep welcoming, to keep praying for these long-term unbelieving friends, even when we know that there is seemingly nothing else that we can say to help them believe? Even when we have done everything we can, and now await a saving miracle, one that is out of our hands?


May we not lose heart or even grow weary of the awkwardness when it comes to friends like Tom the Catholic and Mohammad the Photographer. It is good for the Christian to exhaust all their evangelistic resources and to see that, good though they were, in the end they were not sufficient for creating the new birth in their friend. It’s good to wrestle with how to keep showing love in long-term evangelistic relationships, even when they seem like they’ve plateaued. Like the persistent widow in Luke 18, may we be willing to pray and not give up, trusting that, sooner or later, our petition will be heard by the judge.


The wind blows where it wishes (John 3:8). The Spirit moves according to his sovereign will. We sow the word, we show hospitality, we pray relentlessly. And we wait, expectantly, for our friends to be brought into the fold.

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